For the first six weeks of not drinking, I fought the cravings on my own. When I saw the way it was heading I HAD to reach out for help. The phone call I made to AA was the first time I spoke to someone who understood. They understood the cravings. They understood the need for escapism. Low self-esteem. Not fitting in. Everything. It was a great feeling to finally have another person who knew what I was going through and it seemed sensible to attend an AA meeting, although I was apprehensive.
After the meeting, people gave me their phone numbers and made me feel welcome. I was suspicious of their motives, to begin with. People I knew didn’t do nice things for no reason. They usually expected something in return. So I was guarded. Over the weeks, my suspicion lessened somewhat but I was still uncomfortable with a few things. Initially, it had seemed like a nice place to go for a cup of tea and to share the shit circulating around my head but then it seemed like there was an ever-increasing pressure to do the 12 steps. Many of the steps contained the word “God” and I have to be honest it made me nervous. I started to get a cult vibe from the place and when I saw a couple of people carrying bibles it put me on edge. I voiced my concerns with people about the God thing and they would say “You can use anything as your higher power.” Which made me feel like they weren’t listening. “I don’t believe in any god,” I would reply. “Make one up then,” and round we would go. I felt that outsourcing all of my problems to a deity of my own creation was just another way of escaping my problems and myself. Alcohol had done that for many years and now I wanted to know what I was about. I wanted the control back and AA talked about how I had done a terrible job of being in control before. I also felt like there was too much emphasis on being powerless. I needed bigging up not dragging down. I still believe walking into a room and announcing to strangers “I am an alcoholic,” is the opposite of weak. It should be held up as an act of courage and built on from that point but this is difficult to navigate when alcoholism is seen as a disease. That’s not to say there aren’t positives to AA; it has helped millions of people through time, I met some great people at meetings and I am still friends with some today, it gives meaning to peoples lives were there was none before and altruism is good for the mind.
So, I had an option; stay and become a paid-up member of AA or leave and chance it on my own. Chancing it would be suicide, I was told. I had spent my life being fearful, I didn’t need someone else using fear to control me.
Thanks to relapses in the past, I learned that boredom was the start and drinking was the end. I had to keep busy. I learned that I was escaping my self and my life. So I had to create a life and person I didn’t want to escape from anymore. This was scary shit to do. All the years of built-up problems in my head were rolling around like the storm on Jupiter consuming everything in its path and increasing in chaos. Each new rumination adding another layer of anxiety. My head was a dangerous place to go into. I was deep in debt. I needed to get control of my finances and again, this was scary shit. I had never been responsible with money before and now I had to try to pay off all my debt. I needed a reason for all this to happen. I had no family to do it for. I could do it for myself but last time that only worked for so long… this time I needed a goal.
On a shelf, in a dark corner of my mind, was a box labelled dreams. It was covered in dust and a bit tattered now after being forgotten for so long. I reached up and took the box down, cleared the dust and opened the lid. Inside, was a menagerie of beautiful locations in the world that I had longed to visit. Places of wonder and awe. Places of history and intrigue. Places that would challenge and inspire. I decided that this would be my goal. My line in the sand. All I needed to do was chip away at the weight of the past that was holding me back.
My financial situation was precarious and if I was going to travel the world I either needed to clear my debt or get a lot more debt. I felt like the debt was a trap. A cage. A part of the weight that was holding me back. I realised that a huge part of my monthly repayment were interest charges. So I looked around and found an interest free balance transfer (https://www.money.co.uk/credit-cards/0-purchases-credit-cards.htm). Initially, there was a cost to do so but then there were no interest charges (except on new purchases) so I even though I chose to pay less off a month I was actually paying more off the outstanding balance. It was reassuring to see the amount ACTUALLY coming down for a change. It started to look like progress after a few months. Next was a variety of loans that I had taken out to pay off the credit cards, vowing never to make the same mistake again. I applied for a loan to cover all these loans and extended the length of time to bring the monthly payments down. Although it would increase the interest, I needed to bring my monthly outgoings down.
The next thing I did was; stop buying everything I didn’t NEED. By which I mean if it was just something I wanted for the sake of wanting something, then I didn’t get it. I had to sacrifice my short term desires for my long term goals. This isn’t easy but like anything becomes easier with practice. This freed up some disposable income that I used to pay a bit more off the credit card debt.
One thing I found that took a hit was my social life. A large part of the culture revolves around drinking and being a non-drinker kinda makes you feel like the turd in the punch bowl. Spending time around drunk people though makes you realise that you have to be drunk to “Get it.” That’s because there is nothing to get. The feeling of missing out that used to draw me to the pub like a moth to light soon disappeared for me when I had a goal to aim for. Yet, without the social aspect of the pub/club scene or no AA, it was a little bit isolating. Even lonely. Initially, I bemoaned my isolation but then I realised it was only bad because I was moaning about it. I started doing things I had always wanted to do but used to say “I don’t have the time for” or “I’m too busy.” Just excuses I used so I could go drinking instead. Now, I read so much about meditation, travelling, finances, politics, economics, social science, psychology. I signed up for qualifications. I began learning guitar. I started swimming and going to the sauna. I meditated. I met friends for coffee. I went on dates. I went to gigs. I went to the cinema on my own and felt excitement for the first time in a long time. I discovered that without alcohol I could do, within reason, whatever I wanted. I felt free.
I wanted to do everything and I wanted to do it yesterday but it soon became apparent that tidying up the wreckage of the past was going to take time. So learned to slow down. AA had taught me to take one day at a time but I was taking one day, as one step, towards a goal.
I’ve found that the greatest apology is change and people soon notice when you are making a serious attempt to turn your life around. The level of support offered is phenomenal and a past I was shameful of became a point that I was now becoming proud to have escaped. As long as I was making progress with my relationships, my finances and my personal growth, I accepted that was enough. Some things take longer than others to fix so patience is a necessity.
“Because you have been down there, Neo. You know that road. You know exactly where it ends. And I know that’s not where you want to be.” – Trinity, The Matrix
It was the quote above that kept me going. Every time I wanted a drink. To deviate from the new road I had chosen. I reminded myself of those days; drunk, alone, lonely, scared, broken, desperate and lost. I didn’t want to go down that road. Not again. A bad day sober isn’t worth drinking on and losing everything. So I just kept plugging away one debt at a time; a financial debt. A debt to people. A debt to myself. I owed it to myself to stay sober.
The first year was hard and there were times it seemed like a stupid thing to be doing. That it was a complete waste of time and I should just give up and go back drinking. By by the end of the year, I had learned so much, paid off some of the debt and felt so good that it eventually became worth it. It just took time, patience and sacrifice. All three I’d given to alcohol. So why not give them to sobriety.
Thanks for reading,